We’re thrilled to welcome our newest contributor, Summer Stone of Cake Paper Party! Join along as Summer explores traditional baking concepts in new and exciting ways.
CAKE MYTH : You must create a meringue in order to produce a European-style buttercream.
For some time, I puzzled over the idea that you have to create a fully realized, stable meringue in order to make a Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC). I wondered why one would create a beautifully peaked meringue and then destroy it by adding in loads of butter. I also wanted to know why SMBC’s were so inherently unstable and even the most practiced of bakers sometimes had difficulty making them behave. After much experimentation, I have found answers that will help you make buttercream faster and easier than ever before. You will find that you don’t need a meringue at all!
Here is my method for making Swiss Buttercream (SBC) and an explanation as to why it works:
STEP 1 : Start with egg whites
Egg whites serve two important roles in SBC. They act as a structural component and serve as a liquid to dissolve granulated sugar into. In traditional SMBC, egg whites are beaten to peaks as a means of incorporating air into the buttercream. The problem with this is that protein mediated air pockets are very unstable in the presence of fat. When butter is added, much of the air which was beaten into the eggs is lost and it they become a syrupy puddle. Here I have used pasteurized egg whites from a carton, but separated egg whites from cracked eggs work just as well.
STEP 2 : Add sugar
Sugar obviously plays an important role as a flavor provider in a buttercream but it also serves to thicken and stabilize the egg liquid it is dissolved into. The sugar-egg combination, when mixed with butter, creates an emulsion that is more stable than either individual component.
STEP 3 : Whisk the sugar and eggs together
The eggs and sugar have a symbiotic relationship. The eggs serve the sugar by providing a solvent into which it can be dissolved. At the same time, the sugar helps the egg whites by weakening their ability to coagulate allowing them to remain in a liquid state. Be sure to whisk the eggs and sugar together very well for maximum benefit. No one likes scrambled egg buttercream!
STEP 4 : Heat the eggs and sugar
While the egg whites are helpful in dissolving the sugar, at this high of a sugar concentration heat is required to fully dissolve the sugar crystals. Heat also functions to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be living in the egg whites (particularly if they are fresh). For this reason, you should heat your egg-sugar syrup to 160ᵒ F which will ensure Salmonella is killed. I find the easiest way to do this is in the microwave. One recipe will take 3-4 minutes stirring at one minute intervals. Alternatively you can heat the syrup in a double boiler until a safe temperature is reached. At 160ᵒ F all sugar crystals should be dissolved. I like to add a half ounce of corn syrup to the sugar-egg mixture to minimize the chances of recrystallization. Be sure to stir in any sugar granules than remain on the sides of the bowl. One undissolved rebel sugar crystal can reseed the whole batch.
STEP 5 : Cool the egg-sugar syrup
I place my syrup in a clean cake pan and place it in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to reach a cool/cold temperature (45-60ᵒ F). When the sugar syrup is added to the butter in this temperature range, the two components generally go into emulsion seamlessly without “breaking”. This seems to be one of the problems with traditional SMBC. Since a meringue will not form readily in a cold syrup, the eggs and sugar would have to be at room temperature when the butter was added. This room-temperature blending stresses the combination and makes formation of a proper emulsion more difficult.
STEP 6 : Make extra syrup to save for later
One of the advantages of making SBC by this method is that you can make large batches of syrup and freeze the extra for quick and easy batches in the future. In the photos above, I made a double recipe of syrup and saved half for a future batch.
STEP 7 : Beat butter until light and fluffy
Butter is the all-star of SBC. It does the amazing emulsifying work. For this reason, it makes the most sense to start with the butter and add the cooled syrup to it. When the butter is beaten on high for 2 minutes before the syrup is added, it lightens the buttercream and takes in air in a way that is more structurally sound than that of beaten egg whites. I like to start with butter that is at a cool room temperature since it holds air better in a more solid form.
STEP 8 : Add half of the sugar syrup
Adding half of the liquid at a time allows the mechanical action of the mixer to work to develop the emulsion without overwhelming the butter and causing the mixture to break. Beat for one minute to fully incorporate the syrup before adding the final half.
STEP 9 : Add remaining syrup
Add the second half of syrup to the butter mixture and beat on high to complete the emulsion and incorporate air into the mixture. The buttercream will be quite firm at this point.
STEP 10 : Add vanilla and other flavorings
Adding liquids such as vanilla not only incorporates flavor but the liquids also smooth out and lighten the texture of the buttercream. At this point, the buttercream will be very firm and stable. If you would like a creamier buttercream that is less sweet, you can add additional butter, up to another 4 ounces. If you want a buttercream that is lighter in texture, more like whipped cream, you can add more liquid in the form of milk, sour cream, cream cheese, juice, alcohol, fruit purees or water. I have added up to a half a cup of cool water per recipe with success. Slowly drizzle in the additional liquid while the mixer is going on medium speed.
I hope you enjoy this alternate method for making a Europen-style buttercream and that you find it easier and more fool-proof than ever before! Happy baking!
a recipe by Summer Stone
- 8 ounces (227 grams) egg whites separated from whole eggs or from a carton- 1 cup
- 16 ounces (454 grams) granulated sugar- 2 ¼ cups
- ½ ounce (14 grams) corn syrup- 1 tablespoon
- 16 ounces (454 grams) unsalted butter softened but not warm- 2 cups
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) vanilla extract
Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl. Make sure the mixture is well mixed so the sugar can protect the eggs from cooking. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 2-4 minutes on high in 30 second intervals whisking well after each 30 second heating. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160ᵒ F/72ᵒ C. (Alternatively this step can be carried out in a double boiler over simmering water). Pour the syrup into a cake pan or shallow metal bowl and chill in the freezer for 20-30 minutes until it is quite cool (45-60ᵒ F).
Meanwhile, beat the butter in a mixer for 2 minutes on high until the butter is lighter in color and aerated. Add the cooled syrup in two additions to the butter beating 1 minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat 30 seconds until smooth. Can be used immediately.
You can store this buttercream at room temperature for 2 days, in the refrigerator tightly sealed for 2 weeks, or in the freezer for 2 months.